March 14, 2005


India's matchmaker: Behind the scenes, Madhav Das Nalapat is transforming diplomacy (CLEO PASKAL, 3/11/05, MacLean's)

In [Martin Sherman, a lecturer in political science at Tel Aviv University,]'s eyes, Israel and India had much in common. Both were concerned with Islamic fundamentalism, both were developing high-tech economies, and both were democracies among autocratic states. But in part because of the Cold War past, it was difficult to bring the two countries together, and also warm relations between New Delhi and Washington. Enter the matchmaker: Madhav Das Nalapat.

Formerly the editor of the Times of India, and now a professor of geopolitics at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (an elite private university in southern India), Nalapat has no formal role in government, although he influences policy at the highest levels. During the days when India was frozen in the Cold War block, there was not much attention being paid to his view that closer economic ties with the U.S. would be better than ties to the U.S.S.R. But in 1991, one of his mentors, P. V. Narasimha Rao, took over as prime minister and put together an informal "kitchen cabinet," including Nalapat, to develop new ideas on economics and national security.

Nalapat knew, as he now recalls, that "the only countries that made rapid economic progress in the 1980s were those friendly to the U.S." But with the U.S. and Indian foreign policy establishments still allergic to each other, an icebreaker was needed. The Indian diaspora in the U.S. -- one of the most prosperous and educated groups in that country -- was seemingly made-to-order, not only in helping convince Washington to forgive India's pro-Moscow Cold War tilt, but also using networks of family and friends in India to chip away at the hostility of several key officials toward a warming of ties with the U.S.

Nalapat started promoting the creation of formal networks among Americans of East Indian descent in 1992. By 1995, Indian-Americans had formed lobbying organizations in Washington that were modelled -- not accidentally -- on the successful Jewish-American groups. Here also was a backdoor way to encourage closer relations between Israel and India: Nalapat saw Jewish-Americans as the perfect ally for Indian-Americans in Washington. "Indians and Jews shared a sense of humour and slightly chaotic minds," he says. "They were born to be close." By 1999, the alliance between the two diasporas had begun to resonate on Capitol Hill.

The relationship became so strong that, in 2003, they played a large part in successfully lobbying the American government to allow Israel to sell Phalcon airborne early warning radar systems to India. In fact, in a decade India and Israel have gone from the skimpiest official relationship to Jerusalem being the second largest defence supplier to India (after Russia). The new Indo-Israeli-U.S. security trio came out of the closet in 2003, with Nalapat hosting a high-level trilateral conference in New Delhi. The following year the conference was held in Herzliyya, Israel; a third will be held this month in Washington.

Nalapat has also turned his gaze toward Taiwan, a country he considers important to the balance of power in Asia.

The key to the Axis of Good is that it surrounds the Arab Middle East on the one hand and China on the other--India has the Eastern flank of one and the Western flank of the other, making it our most important ally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2005 11:57 PM

First good article I've seen in Maclean's in several years. I wonder how it got past the editor?

Posted by: BC Monkey at March 15, 2005 10:25 AM